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What do you guys think? Have you contemplated something similar in your hackerspace?
hackerspaces | flux
What do you guys think? Have you contemplated something similar in your hackerspace?
Note: This is the second specific installment of a five part series on Hackerspace organization called “Hackerspaces and Money: Five Approaches“.
One point I glossed over is why I believe that money and organizational forms are so intertwined when it comes to hackerspaces. This series could have been called, “Hackerspaces and Organizational Forms: Five Approaches.” Admittedly, I’m not talking much about money, how to find it, raise it or spend it. I haven’t talked much about fundraising, accounting or project management, though I plan to in the future. In my observation, what happens in Hackerspaces doesn’t need to be managed or carefully organized. Once Hackers gather in a space, they’ll begin creating and collaborating in ways that are remarkably similar regardless of culture, language or organizational form. Projects and programs that happen in one space can easily happen in other spaces, only marginally constrained by the organizational form in practice.
I believe the “magic” that happens in Hackerspaces is universal, as are the two necessary evils: Money and how to manage it. Being physical spaces, Hackerspaces have real costs and real opportunities for meeting those costs. Being collaborative spaces, the procedure for paying the bills involves some kind of relationship among the collaborators–that relationship is what we’re looking at when we discuss organizational forms. Failing to understand this relationship among the collaborators makes any discussion of funding very difficult. At the same time, carefully understanding these relationships as they’ve happened elsewhere gives future Hackerspaces the best chance of finding the right form for their own effort.
These forms are also heavily tied to the core source of income for each space. The Anarchy form, for example, implies that the rents for a space are essentially appropriated. The Angel form implies that they’re donated. The Owner form implies that they’re taken care of by a single participant, who generally subsidizes them. Both the Board and Membership forms implies that these costs are paid collectively by the participants, most often through membership dues. Hackerspaces, regardless of form, can solicit donations from the public, host classes for a fee, throw rent parties, sell shirts online, or Club-Mate in the space. However, each of those activities is handled differently depending on the form.
The Board Form
The Artifactory, Kwartzlab, Collexion, and Revelation Space are all different examples of the “Board” form. While each space heavily relies on its membership, each space has an involved subset of members that makes decisions. In a way, the “Board Form” is the least well-defined of the five forms and most prone to combination with other forms. Founder Todd Wiley describes Collexion as a hybrid of the Angel and Board forms:
This series was inspired by Koen Martens, who also describes Revelation Space as a hybrid of the Membership and Board forms:
In many cases, a Membership space will have a Board of Directors. However, this doesn’t mean the space is taking on a Board Form, especially when a Board is required by corporate law.
The functional power that board has is the determining factor. If the Board is essentially a paper tiger, with the membership in functional control of affairs, the space is probably best suited to the Membership form. Punkin describes Kwartzlab as an example:
So, for lack of a better definition, if your space is primarily controlled by your members, it follows the Membership form. If the members leave most of the decisions and money matters to a subset, it probably follows the Board form. Landing firmly in one category or another is not necessarily that important, as long as the relationships of each are well understood. Some Membership spaces may functionally slip back into a Board form, just like Board spaces often migrate into Membership spaces, or use the Board form as a bootstrapping step.
David Cake describes how the Artifactory is using the Board Form to bootstrap their way into a Membership Hackerspace:
Makers Local 256 followed the critical mass pattern in establishing their hackerspace, with their original 10 members fulfilling the role of the 2+2 model. Their unique dues model describes how a Board can help build membership in the early stages:
Martens has this to add:
The notable advantages of a Board space are formal organization with less administrative overhead from the participants, as well a greater degree of formal control vested in fewer people. In most cases where there isn’t a hybrid form with another style of organization, the advantages are remarkably similar to those of a Membershp organization. Here, I’m looking at advantages of a Board form
The notable disadvantages over alternative forms are also similar to the Membership form:
Another disadvantage cited by Martens is what he describes as an anti-pattern of complacency:
The Board form is good for Bootstrapping, and depending on the environment, a next best form to the Membership model. Hackers are generally bad at paperwork and group dynamics, so having a Board to take care of the administrative overhead and mediate disputes can help ensure continuity and sustainability. It also works well as a hybrid with other forms, or as a means for acting as a firewall between Angels, Owners and Members. But beware of complacency!
As always, feel free to ask questions on the Hackerspaces Discuss list, or reach out to these spaces directly.
I’ll admit, this post is coming a bit late, but we’re still recovering from our month-long sleepless, caffeinated, sprint across North America. On the plus side, we’re done filming! We visited as many hackerspaces and makerspaces as we could in a month, but that was the easy part….
Now begins the post-production work.
We’ll be working for a quite a while on getting everything just right, so unfortunately I can’t give an exact date of release. I can, however, tell you that we’re going to try to have it done by next spring. Believe me, we’re just as excited to see the finished film as you are!
I want to say thank you to the dozens of people who helped us out along the way. Without the car trips, beds, and donations of both hackerspace members and kind strangers, there is absolutely no way we could have done this. We may have had the cameras, but it was all of you who made this possible. Thank you!!
For updates on the film, check out www.twohandsproject.com! I’ll do my best to keep all of you in the loop here on hackerspaces.org as well.
Congrats to i3Detroit on the grand opening of their new space in Royal Oak, MI (near Detroit). Not only is their space incredibly cool, they brought in the Mayor to officially cut the ribbon. Of course, being hackers, they’re not going to settle for oversized scissors and a red ribbon with a bow. Instead, watch as Mayor Ellison cuts through a 40-conductor ribbon cable with an oxyacetylene cutting torch:
Freshly moved to Detroit from NYC, former NYCR member Jeff Sturges blogged about i3Detroit:
Is it only a matter of time before we have a Head of State blasting open the doors of their country’s latest hackerspace? Hopefully so!
This just in from the Hackerspaces Discuss list:
While you’re there, maybe you should go try to find this little piece of history:
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Unfortunately, the list for /tmp/lab’s CERN excursion is FULL!
More news and updates on the aftermath over at the Hackerspaces Discuss list.
Note: This is the first specific installment of a five part series on Hackerspace organization called “Hackerspaces and Money: Five Approaches“.
C-base. Noisebridge. C4. HacDC. They are officially recognized and organized as independent entities. These spaces are funded, operated and controlled as directly as possible by their members. They open their spaces up for events, classes and social gatherings, and eagerly invite new members to join. These spaces are good examples of the Membership form of organization, the style of organization that most directly inspired the wave of spaces that began to form in late 2007, after Hackers on a Plane and that year’s Chaos Communications Camp.
While these spaces may make it look easy, bootstrapping a space under the Membership form of organization is often far more difficult than pursuing other forms of organization, especially when starting from scratch. There are also other ongoing organizational challenges. Ultimately, if something fails, members can only blame themselves.
Unlike Anarchy, Membership spaces require an official form of organization with explicit expectations, rights and responsibilities of members. Unlike Angel spaces, Membership spaces require their members to contribute the bulk of what it takes to rent and operate the space. Unlike Owner spaces, Members have an equal say in where to locate, how much to pay in rent and what projects to pursue with group funds. While spaces run by a Board and spaces run by Members are largely similar, the degree of difference in control and responsibility can be substantial depending on the situation.
Following this formula, the first step in bootstrapping is officially forming an organization. Incorporating is usually the first place where the 2+2 model from the critical mass pattern comes into play. The 2+2 group is usually the first to sign the paperwork and contribute the startup funds necessary to secure and rent a space.
Even while the 2+2 group has an implicit authority by virtue of being founders and visionaries, all they can do is set an example, work on the tasks at hand and inspire others to help. Without a space, these membership groups recruit others by reaching out over e-mail, attending conferences, dropping by local events such as DorkBot and Maker Meetups, and hosting their own workshops in shared spaces. More members means more dues and resources, but it also means more opinions and potential for disagreement.
In some areas, the 2+2 group will often contribute a substantial boostrapping funds to execute a lease, after which the usual rent and expenses are paid for by member dues. In many ways, it’s easier to “sell” potential members on the value of a space once it’s actually leased. Some hackerspace efforts began collecting dues long before a space was leased, making the process of executing a lease a shared effort from the beginning. In any case, once a group is large enough to pay the expenses, it’s safe to call the bootstrapping process over.
The notable advantages over alternative forms are largely ones of legal compliance, independence and true democratic control:
The notable disadvantages over alternative forms require more work from the members and more time spent on administrative matters and potentially distracting disagreements:
Talk of a fully democratic membership organization may be a bit misleading. In any group, leaders will generally emerge. Those founders who start spaces naturally fill a leadership role by guiding their space from nothing to existence. Sometimes, in the best interests of getting the space going, founders will gloss over underlying issues within the group that form from differences of opinion. Failure to resolve these in time usually results in group fragmentation that can lead to a group’s demise.
If the founders or other leaders who emerge exercise too much power, or hold onto it for too long, they can alienate others in the group or possibly even default in practice to another form of organization.
Another problem with fully democratic organizations is that members can always vote with their feet! Failing to attract new members or high membership turnover is also a big problem with membership spaces. Unlike Owner or Board spaces, every member is inherently responsible for creating the conditions that attract and retain members who help support the space.
While I strongly believe this form of organization is the best and most closely aligned with what hackers look for in a space, it’s not without its problems. Hackers are generally bad at paperwork and group dynamics, so sometimes an alternative form of organization is the best course of action to pursue. Sometimes ceding a little bit of control for the sake of having a space or keeping it open is the best thing to do.
However, if you’re serious about building a dynamic, sustainable space, you should consider following this model! It’s worked throughout the world and with the right energy, it can work for you too.
First of all, please introduce yourself – who is behind syn₂cat and what do you do for a living?
While syn₂cat began as a two men project in August 2008, it has by now developed into a fully fledged non-profit organisation, featuring 4 administrative members and 4 additional officers. The initial founders, Steve and David are a freelance IT consultant and a political science student respectively.
Of the additional people that soon stocked up the syn₂cat office, macfreak109 is a school teacher in information science, xx5y is a microelectronics engineer, Bartek a post-grad physics student, Gunstick a sysadmin and Michel is a student in secondary school. We only now got reinforced by an 8th crew member.
So how did you come up with the idea to found a hackerspace?
The idea of a hackerspace was born out of desperation
Though the idea of building a hackerspace was initially scheduled for after David’s graduation, we spontaneously decided to do it “right there and now”. Since then, the project has been steadily growing like an open source project, with its “developers” learning by doing how to run such a show.
What are your future plans for the hackerspace?
Bootstrapping the space is still the near future and once we accomplished that, attracting more people and launching projects will be our focus. One group will focus on youth projects to get more young people into thinking outside the box and begin seeing solutions instead of problems.
Another future task is to constantly shift the responsibility of the actual space to other, maybe younger, people. Although we talked about an “administrative” board, we are far from paper tigers and want to keep the complexity as flat as possible.
Why do you think is the movement spreading so fast right now?
It gained a lot of momentum by the Hackers on a Plane project and the incredible amount of hackerspaces growing in the US. The sudden US movement had its spark from some German hackerspace visits so I guess it was the Germans again
Interestingly enough this amalgamate of people starting open spaces backlashed to Europe again to give rise to a new iteration of hacker- or open spaces. The movement is nothing new but currently it sees fit in the hacker culture which sees an imminent uprise. To get to the point: People saw peers doing cool things in cool spaces and thought – “us too!” – and started doing it too.
Another factor might be the rise of social networks which allow ideas to spread quickly, especially amongst technically minded people. Hackerspaces take the connections made online and map them into the physical world.
Are there any fixed dates for events at syn₂cat?
The next big things will be our OpenWeekend where we show the space to the general public and keep it open for 36h straight. Further, we are also planning regular Python classes and electronics (soldering) sessions, with another focus on attracting other peer-groups such as user groups , the Chaos Computer Club, miniature railway hackers etc…
And the last question, where can we find some pictures?
There are photos on our website – but be ready to be rocked by the upcoming “after syn₂cat” pictures!